La Jolla student’s fundraiser nets $18K for cancer research

Missed the fundraiser? The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life is June 13-14, at Muirlands Middle School

La Jolla High School head water polo and swim coach Tom Atwell completed his 11th 100-mile run June 5 during a fundraising relay race organized by his daughter, Lexi, at La Jolla High. The event raised more than $18,000 for cancer research via the efforts of 14 teams and 160 participants.

Atwell started making laps around the La Jolla High track at 9:30 p.m. June 4, with Lexi, his son, Cole, and wife, Utahna, camping over-night in a tent nearby to support his efforts.

“I just stop and grab a little nutrition for maybe two or three minutes,” Atwell said after having just completed his 75th mile the following morning. “Your muscles tighten up too much if you stop too long, so I’ve got too keep moving.”

Completing laps, Atwell wore a T-shirt in memory of La Jollan Suzanne Shure, who lost her battle with cancer about a month ago, and then another shirt supporting a La Jolla High parent undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer.

Standing beside the track watching Atwell run in his wife’s honor, Shure’s widower, Tudor Lacey (who also coaches at Coggan Family Aquatic Center), was overcome with emotion as he spoke of how fortunate he felt to have met his wife eight years ago at the pool where he and Atwell coach, adjacent La Jolla High.

“She loved swimming, and she was always exercising,” he said. “She lived an exemplary, healthy life — an inspiration to all of us.”

Utahna Atwell, who survived her own battle with breast cancer eight years go, emphasized how the disease can strike anyone, at any time, indiscriminately.

“I’ve never had alcohol, drugs, even a cigarette,” she said. “My entire life I was active, healthy, not overweight. There’s no rhyme or reason — no breast cancer in my family.”

Utahna said strides in cancer research made possible by the fundraising efforts of people such as her daughter may have likely saved her husband’s life.

“He’s one of the lucky people,” Utahna said, noting that treatment advancements made between the time of her husband’s first and second skin cancer bouts — particularly the ability to perform more localized chemotherapy — prevented doctors from having to amputate his leg.

“He loves to challenge himself and raise money for causes that he believes in,” Utahna said of Tom, who has participated in many other grueling endurance events to raise money for cancer and injured military service members.

“It’s sad that something like cancer has to bring people together like this, but if people didn’t rally and fight it then we wouldn’t be making the progress we are,” she said. “We just have to be aggressive … and we can’t rest on our laurels. We have to fight.”

Relay For Life June 13-14

Missed Lexi’s fundraiser? The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, Cirque Du Relay, is Saturday and Sunday, June 13-14, at Muirlands Middle School, 1056 Nautilus St. Participants are asked to incorporate a carnival theme into their track-side campsites. The event will include face painting, a photo booth, lap beads, DNA strand necklaces, a prize wheel, plus food fundraisers, including pulled pork sandwiches and brisket, tacos, pizza and pancakes.

For more details, contact Jennie Degraffenreid: or (619) 888-4409.